HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – The new year has brought an old face to Oaklawn.
Five horses for New York-based trainer Rob Atras arrived New Year’s Day, including Grade 1 winner Maracuja, a candidate for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares April 23.
It’s the first time Atras, 37, has split his stable between New York and another state. But it’s not the first time his name has been connected to Arkansas. Atras, as an assistant, helped oversee Robertino Diodoro’s Oaklawn division when the trainer sent horses to Hot Springs for the first time in 2015. Atras spent several winters at Oaklawn before going out on his in 2019.
“It’s kind of the first time I’ve kind of really, officially, opened up a second string,” Atras said Tuesday afternoon. “Obviously in the summer, we have to split our string up in Saratoga and Belmont, but this is the first time I’ve had a string out of state.”
Atras said he has 45 horses training in New York, adding he may send a couple of more to Oaklawn and could be “a little bit active” at the claim box. Jesse Sauder, an exercise rider who recently received his assistant trainer’s license, is overseeing the Arkansas division, Atras said.
Atras is scheduled to send out his first starter of the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, You’re to Blame, in Sunday’s featured eighth race, a $102,000 allowance event for older horses at 1 3/16 miles. Atras trains You’re to Blame, a Grade 3 winner of $875,600, for prominent New York owner Michael Dubb.
“Kind of a mixture,” Atras, outlining his Oaklawn stable. “But no Arkansas-based owners at this point. They’re all New York-based horses that we had running up here.”
Atras said he considered an Oaklawn string the last couple of years, but didn’t have the right type of horses. His small Arkansas contingent is headed by Maracuja, who upset Malathaat in the $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) for 3-year-old fillies July 24 at Saratoga under eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. Malathaat is the front-runner for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2021.
“Last year, I got a few horses out of Arkansas that came up here and we did well with them,” Atras said. “I had a few ideas. One was to, potentially, claim some horses to bring back to New York and another idea was to send a filly that won the Oaks, CCA Oaks, Maracuja, down and have her train down there and then, hopefully, run a couple of times. As things came together, I had a couple of horses that I didn’t really have spots for up here, or I had trouble getting them in the right spot, so it kind of worked out well to send them down there.”
Maracuja made seven starts last year, breaking her maiden in February at Aqueduct before running second in the $250,000 Gazelle Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies in April at Aqueduct and winning in the Coaching Club American Oaks. She also ran seventh in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) for 3-year-old fillies in April at Churchill Downs and closed her busy campaign with a fourth-place finish in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes (G1) for 3-year-old fillies Sept. 25 at Parx.
Atras said he’s targeting a March return for Maracuja and then “hopefully” a date in the Apple Blossom. The $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 12 is the final major local prep for the Apple Blossom. Both races are 1 1/16 miles.
“It could be the Azeri or it could be something else,” Atras said. “I’m not exactly sure yet. We’re just going to kind of see how things go. She got a real light breeze in up here before she left, so we’re kind of just starting up with her. She had a few months off at the farm in Kentucky. She had been galloping here in New York for a month, with a light breeze, and so we’re just kind of starting to get her back going again. So, we don’t have an exact timeframe with her yet.”
Like Diodoro, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2020, Atras was born in Canada. Atras set career highs across the board in 2021, saddling 71 winners from 338 starts and amassing $3,970,919 in purse earnings. The Coaching Club American Oaks represented his first Grade 1 victory.
A double last Sunday pushed Francisco Arrieta into the solo lead in the rider standings after 12 days of the scheduled 66-day meeting. Arrieta won the fourth race aboard Wildwood’s Beauty($13) for trainer Scott Becker and the sixth race aboard One for Richie ($7.60) for trainer Cipriano Contreras. Arrieta has 15 victories at the meet, one more than Florent Geroux. … Geroux ($1,003,754) became the first jockey to reach $1 million in purse earnings at the meet with a victory aboard favored Fan Club ($5.20) in last Sunday’s ninth race for leading trainer Brad Cox. … Ramon Vazquez recorded a riding triple last Sunday, winning the second race aboard Souixper Charger ($11.20) for trainer John Henry Prather of Hot Springs, third race aboard favored Motion Picture ($6.40) for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs and the seventh race aboard favored Sky and Sand ($4.40) for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Asmussen and eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. teamed to win the following race with Whiskey Double ($11.60). … Saturday’s $150,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1 mile has drawn a field of seven, including 9-5 program favorite Coach. Also entered are Breeze Rider, W W Fitzy, Itsallinthenotes, Josie, Miss Bigly and Wellington Wonder.
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
Photo: Rob Atras (Courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese)